T notes: Ridership up in 1st quarter

New employee to solicit pilot service proposals

THE NUMBER OF BUS AND SUBWAY riders on the MBTA increased during the first three months of the year, bucking a long-running trend of declining ridership.

MBTA officials said their analysis indicates the number of average weekday bus trips was up nearly 4 percent in the first quarter compared to the same three-month period a year ago. The average number of weekday trips was also up on every subway line except the Green Line, which dipped 3.8 percent. The average number of weekday trips on the Silver Line increased 16 percent during the quarter.

Laurel Paget-Seekins, the T’s assistant general manager for policy, said the increases were due in part to favorable weather and the New England Patriots parade in early February, which attracted some of the largest passenger volumes the T has ever seen.

In a presentation to the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, Paget-Seekins detailed the difficulty the T has in gathering accurate ridership estimates but seemed confident that ridership overall was up in the first three months of the year. In past reports to the board, Paget-Seekins had reported a downturn in ridership that had moderated slightly over the last year.

T officials have failed to pinpoint why ridership has been going down at a time when the economy is humming along, but in other states facing the same problem most of the blame has been placed on the rise of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft.

Got a pilot project for the T?

The MBTA is hiring an employee to oversee the solicitation and vetting of new service pilot projects from outside groups.

T officials say they want to work with cities and towns and other interested parties on pilots for new commuter rail, ferry, and bus service. A presentation to the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board said pilot sponsors would be required “to contribute to proposal analysis and additional operating cost depending on the nature of the pilot.”

The same presentation indicated bus service pilots could also be proposed by anyone with no sponsor requirements in terms of analysis and funding.

The T plans to do outreach for pilot projects this summer and early fall with initial proposals due in the fall. The current plan is for final proposals to go to the control board in early 2020 with service starting as early as the fall of 2020.

New Orange Line cars on track for this summer

After a series of earlier delays, MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville told the Fiscal and Management Control Board that he is confident the first set of new Orange Line cars will enter service sometime this summer.

Delays were announced in January and March due to software issues, but Gonneville said work on the problem is “progressing very well” and he expects the situation to be resolved in July. He said the first six-car train of new Orange Line cars will begin service “mid-summer.”

Gonneville said a total of 12 new Orange Line cars have been delivered to the T so far and another 30 are being assembled at the manufacturer’s Springfield plant.

Anti-collision system assurances

MBTA officials said an anti-collision system for the computer rail network is on schedule to be up and running by the federally mandated deadline of December 31, 2020, but they also admitted the root cause of software and hardware problems had not been identified over the last month.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Karen Antion, who is overseeing the installation of the anti-collission system for the MBTA, raised alarm bells about the situation in late April and pressed for a quick resolution with the subcontractor in charge of making sure transponders on the tracks communicate with antennae on the trains.

On Monday, Antion sounded confident the problems will be resolved, but she nevertheless conceded that glitches continue on the northern portion of the commuter rail system. “Results remain inconsistent with performance on the North Side Lines trending in a negative direction week over week – root cause of transponder reading issue not yet identified,” said her presentation to the control board.